HC Deb 19 December 1963 vol 686 cc1441-5
Mr. H. Wilson

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement arising out of the discussions which have been held on the remuneration of Ministers and Members of Parliament.

The Prime Minister (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

Yes, Sir. The remuneration of Members of the House of Commons and salaries of junior Ministers were raised in 1957, and, at the same time, an expenses allowance was introduced for Members of the House of Lords. The basic salary of a senior Minister has remained unchanged since 1831.

After consultation with the leaders of the main political parties in both Houses, we have decided that the time has now come for a fundamental review of the remuneration of Ministers of the Crown and of Members of the House of Commons and also for the reconsideration of the allowance for Members of the House of Lords.

Her Majesty's Government have, therefore, appointed Sir Geoffrey Lawrence, Mr. H. S. Kirkaldy and Professor W. J. M. Mackenzie to be a Committee with the following terms of reference: To review, and to recommend what changes are desirable in, the remuneration of Mr. Speaker, Ministers of the Crown and Members of the House of Commons and also the allowance for Members of the House of Lords, having regard to their responsibilities, to the place of Parliament in the national life and to the changes which have taken place, since the existing emoluments were fixed, in general standards of remuneration, and to the increases in expenses borne by Members of both Houses in the discharge of their duties. The Committee will, of course, take evidence from whatever sources it wishes, but in order to assist it in carrying out its task, Her Majesty's Government, in consultation with the other parties, have appointed an Advisory Panel with which the Committee will be able to consult and from which they will be able to obtain advice on parliamentary matters.

The following have agreed to serve on the Advisory Panel: Lord Tweedsmuir, Chairman, Lord Champion, the hon. Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott), the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley), the hon. and learned Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver), the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes), and the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade).

The Government consider that the Committee should be asked to report as soon as possible after the General Election and that whatever action seems appropriate in the light of its report should then be taken without delay.

Mr. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although we would have preferred immediate action, we very much welcome the approach that he has shown to these discussions during the past two or three weeks? Is he further aware that it is the desire of all of us that this matter should be taken out of party politics; that, speaking for my own party, I would express the very strong view that this should be regarded as a matter for the House as a whole, and that, between now and the General Election, and during the election campaign, this should not be regarded as another party matter, or related to other questions?

Finally, am I right—I think I am—in taking the last sentence of the right hon. Gentleman's statement as meaning that if, at the end of the General Election, we find a Government under his leadership—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] All right. There is a little more of the sentence to follow. Am I right in thinking that if this were to occur he would feel that something does need to be done, and that the Government would take action quickly in the life of the new Parliament just as, on behalf of my party, I give a similar pledge that if the result of the election were to be a Labour Government we would equally regard it as essential that something should be done quickly? [An. Hon. Member: "What about the Liberals?"] Is the Prime Minister further aware that I had proposed to leave a supplementary question to the Leader of the Liberal Party?

The Prime Minister

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the help that he has given me in this matter during the last few weeks. I think that we both feel it desirable that these matters should be taken out of party politics, and should play no part in the election campaign. I am sure that that is the feeling on both sides of the House.

The answer to the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, with the possible substitution of "when" for "if", is "Yes, Sir".

Mr. Grimond

Is the Prime Minister aware that I, also, welcome this statement? May I assure him that if called upon to form a Government after the election I shall be only too happy to follow his excellent example? May I also thank him for coming to a speedy decision in this matter? It seems to me that there is something to be said for having a few lapsed Peers in the House of Commons, so that they can bring a new look to these difficult problems. I hope that this is the beginning of the end of the very unhappy and nagging negotiations, very unsatisfactory to everybody, which have always had to precede any change in our salaries.

Mr. Renton

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. Is he aware, however, that there is a feeling on both sides of the House—and that there has been such a feeling for a long time—that the differential as between Ministers and junior Ministers has not been quite right, to the disadvantage of junior Ministers? Will he give us an assurance that the Committee to be set up will not be bound by the present differential?

The Prime Minister

I think that all this will go into the melting pot. I hope that something more satisfactory for junior Ministers will come out.

Mr. Mason

I thank the Prime Minister for the pleasing statement that he has made, and especially upon the break-through that we have achieved in allowing, for the first time, a few independent assessors to make recommendations. Are the terms of reference of the Committee such as to allow the assessors to make recommendations to this House offering ways and means whereby this difficult problem could be solved for all time, so that we did not have to go through this periodical rigmarole again?

The Prime Minister

There is no reason why the Committee should not make a recommendation if it sees fit, but this matter must be kept under the authority of the Government of the day.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

How does it come about, Mr. Speaker, that this Question arises as a Private Notice Question? Under the rules of order such Questions are normally asked in respect of a matter which has suddenly arisen and which has to be determined either today or tomorrow.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member need not be anxious. The custom is to allow a Private Notice Question to be asked by the Leader of the Opposition, because, by custom, he does not put Questions on the Order Paper.

Mr. Shinwell

In view of the fact that we should have had an increase a long time ago, will the Prime Minister so frame the terms of reference of the Committee as to ensure that whatever decision is reached by the Committee it will be made retrospective?

The Prime Minister

I know of the right hon. Gentleman's interest in this matter, but I am not sure that I am in the same category as he is.

Mr. More

Will my right hon. Friend consider enlarging the terms of reference in one important respect? The terms of reference refer to the general standards of remuneration. Could not they refer to a specific increase in the standards of remuneration of the permanent officials of the Ministries to which Ministers are attached?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I must have the indulgence of the House in putting a stop to further discussion of this matter. It so happens that we have a terrific lot to do before we come to our formal work today.